Originally written in November 2010, as part of our Southeast Asian adventure.
We had heard horrific stories about the trip from Saigon to Pnom Penh. If you take a bus it can take around 6 hours. Sometimes it can take more as there’s change of companies in the middle and that’s where things started getting dodgy. As we had not done the Mekong tour, we chose to combine the crossing with spending some time on the delta… Well, that was definitely a bad idea.
We were picked up around 7am (all is done very early in Asia) to sit in a bus for the 110 kms. to the Mekong delta. In some parts of Asia the roads are not particularly amazing so it took us 3 hours to get there. I still remember how bumpy the road was and how the guide kept on saying we were on a hip hop motorway… Oh the wit of the Vietnamese!!
We then got on a small boat and we travelled through the delta. They told us how families live in their boats and their dependence on the river. We also went to a real market, where each boat had one product only. Yes, just one. How do they showcase what product it is? Simply by putting a bamboo stick at the front with a “sample” of the product. That way they guarantee people will be able to see it from a distance. They also told us that the eyes painted at the front of their boats are there to scare crocodiles. True story!!
We were then taking to a factory (well, really a production line) of cola sweets (no, not cola like the famous drink, more like toffee coconut) and later to another, which showed us how rice paper is made – very cool.
We got back on the boat and half an hour later we stopped for lunch at someone’s house (that’s how it felt), to then grab a bike back to the bus that would take us to another boat . I swear, I think whoever put the itinerary together probably thought of things they liked and mashed them altogether. Casing point: the bike ride. We rode bikes from sometime circa 1940, no doubt and the ride was 500 metres… No kidding!
Two hours later we were on a massive ferry that was crossing the river towards the city of Chau Duc. There were easily 100 people in it and around 300 motorbikes. At one stage, the captain of the ship chose 2 people from our tour to go up to the post of command with him and, guess what, I was chosen with an Austrian guy. Even though the boat trip lasted only around 20 minutes, we had a very interesting conversation about the war (he had a terrible war wound on his right leg). He asked me about the Spanish civil war (my granddad fought in it) and he asked the Austrian guy about the Second World War. We also spoke about education and the importance of moving forward…. An incredibly insightful conversation that I will remember forever.
So we crossed the river to then get onto another bus and then to another boat, which led us to a floating hotel (another boat), where we spent the night.
The following morning we got up at an ungodly hour to go and see a home where they bred fish. It was literally a floating house with a hole in it and with nets that held up to 1000 fish. We all know that the best thing first thing in the morning is the smell of fish, right?
We also stopped over in a Muslim island of the Mekong, one of the last villages in the Vietnamese territory. The children were lovely and mesmerised with our presence and kept on trying to talk to us. It was quite funny, really.
After that we got into a high-speed boat, finally on the way to the first Cambodian check point. Once we got there (2 hours later) the control itself was simple. Pay the visa, fill in a paper, give a picture and our passport and wait. An hour later we were allowed to go to the second control, which meant that we would take another high speed boat for half an hour to another checkpoint, this time to collect our passport on Cambodian soil. We were called out by name (well, sort of), given our passport and, following that, we had to be inspected by a member of the police (to see if the “sexy lady” on my passport was in fact me)…
Three stamps later, we were accepted. Officially.
Sadly, our odyssey was not yet over. We had to get onto the high-speed boat (again), for another hour, until we got into the first official Cambodian village. I will never forget that very first impression of the country. We were tired, in need of a shower, of a bed and , really, of an explanation as to where next where we gonna have to go to before reaching Pnom penh.And, suddenly, out of the blue, as we were walking through the fields towards the village, a boy came out on his bike with the biggest of smiles. As he saw us, he rang the bell and, in a way, showed us just how excited he was that we had an interest in his village. What a welcome.
Immediately after we were surrounded by a horde of kids that were looking for money (I’m not trying to be bold here, but they were really trying to take everything off you)… In any case, I choose to maintain the image of the boy on the bike, with his innocence and smile, as my own first impression of Cambodia
And, yes, we got into another bus and 2 hours later we were finally in Pnom penh, where we discovered that people were relaxed and full of life
But I will leave that to another day